A U.S. citizen is scheduled to be released from an Afghan prison as the State Department and FBI faced a Tuesday deadline to answer allegations they ordered his torture and manipulated the Afghan judicial system.
Jack Idema is the last of three U.S. citizens imprisoned in Afghanistan for running a private prison. Idema said they were hunting terrorists as part of a mission sanctioned by U.S. counterterrorism officials — a claim that U.S. officials have denied.
Attorneys for the three men filed a lawsuit in Washington in 2005 challenging their detention. In court documents, Idema accused the State Department and FBI of illegally keeping him imprisoned in a deplorable Afghan prison, directing his torture and destroying evidence. He said he has audio recordings and documents to back up his claims.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said he was “deeply troubled” by the allegations and gave the U.S. government until Tuesday to respond.
“Petitioners allege that United States officials ordered their arrest, ordered their torture, stole exculpatory evidence during their trial and appeal, exerted undue influence over Afghan judges, and either directly or indirectly ordered judges who found petitioners innocent not to release petitioners from prison,” Sullivan wrote.
U.S. says man granted amnesty
The Justice Department, which represents the U.S. government in court, did not respond. Instead, government attorneys asked that the case be thrown out because they say the Afghan government granted Idema amnesty and commuted his sentence.
“As soon as the travel arrangements for Mr. Idema’s departure from the country are made, his release and deportation should follow imminently,” government attorneys wrote April 5. “Indeed, as of the time of this filing, it is our understanding that Mr. Idemas release is imminent.”
Sullivan has not ruled on whether to dismiss the case. If he does not dismiss it, he said the government will have a month from the time of that decision to respond to Idema’s accusations.
Comparisons to 'dirty bomb' suspect
Idema’s lawyer, John E. Tiffany, said the U.S. government coordinated Idema’s amnesty to avoid having to respond to the allegations of torture and government misconduct.
“The Aghan government doesn’t do anything unless the United States government tells them to do it,” Tiffany said. “They got caught with their pants down. Finally, a federal judge with courage and intellect said, ’Hey, wait a minute. Let’s look at this.”
Tiffany compared the case to that of Jose Padilla, who was arrested in 2002 on suspicion of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb.” Padilla was declared an enemy combatant and was held in a brig without criminal charges. Before the Supreme Court could decide whether that was legal, the government reversed course and charged him in civilian court on lesser charges.
“They would like nothing more than never having to respond,” Tiffany said. “If they have to respond to a laundry list of areas that the judge very clearly laid out, you put yourself of great risk of taking positions that will be exposed as lies.”
Government attorneys said that’s not the case. The State Department learned that Idema’s amnesty was final on March 15, nearly a week before Sullivan’s order, according to court documents.
Held since 2004
Idema was captured in 2004 along with fellow Americans Brent Bennett and Edward Caraballo. Idema and Bennett were former U.S. soldiers. Caraballo was an investigative journalist. Bennett and Caraballo have since been released.
Tiffany said Tuesday he did not know whether Idema has been freed. An Afghan official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information, said Idema remains in Policharki, the main prison in Kabul.
The Justice Department said in court documents that Idema was holding up his own release by refusing to leave Afghanistan without Bennett’s dog.
“Mr. Idema replied with words to the effect that he had made a promise to Mr. Bennett on his life that he would take the dog with him when he went, and that the only way he would leave Afghanistan without the dog was if they carried out his dead body,” government attorneys wrote.
The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan said it had no comment on Idema’s case.